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Christopher Boodram warded in hospital.

Four of the five underwater divers sucked into a pipe in the Gulf of Paria on Friday remained trapped up to late yesterday. The diver who was rescued remained hospitalised but was doing okay.

As they prayed for a miracle, the families of three of the four divers still stuck in the pipe said that the company did nothing urgently to rescue them.

Gathered in front of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery yesterday morning hoping to get answers, the relatives accused Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd of failing the divers. The divers are Kazim Ali Jnr; Rishi Nagessar, 48, of Couva; Fyzal Kurban, 57, of Claxton Bay; and Yusuf Henry, 31, of Sangre Grande. A fifth diver, Christopher Boodram was rescued and is warded in a stable condition at the San Fernando General Hospital.

Ali’s father, Kazim Ali Snr, who owns the contracting firm LMCS Ltd, where the divers were employed, was also at the Paria facility. He confirmed that his son was one of the divers. However, he did not complain.

The incident occurred around 3 pm just off the Pointe-a-Pierre jetty. In a release on Friday night, Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd stated that the five divers employed with LMCS Ltd were conducting an underwater maintenance exercise at No 36 Sealine Riser on Berth #6 at Paria Trading Company Limited when the incident occurred and they lost sight of the men who were being monitored from onshore.

Paria stated that incident management protocols at Paria were immediately triggered under established standards. Paria said they also had the support of the T&T Coast Guard. They stated then that the cause of the incident was still being investigated.

The families complained, however, that the company failed to contact them when the incident occurred and did not initiate immediate rescue operations. The families said were told by friends and associates that something went wrong and the men were sucked into a 36-inch pipe.

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Stuart Young met with the company officials and the families at the Paria facility yesterday. However, he could not appease the upset and anxious families.

Kurban’s family

Kurban’s sister-in-law Trisha Ramoutar said Kurban’s son Michael, a boat captain and diver, who was working nearby, heard the emergency call, left the job site and got to the location. He told them that no one was searching the water for his father and the other men.

She said Michael called his other brother, a friend and his uncle, a commercial diver and they arrived within 40 minutes. They said they heard a noise coming from the pipe, but claimed Paria did not want to give the clearance for them to go in search of the men.

“Against instructions, my nephew and they gear up and they went down in the pipe and that is how they save Christopher Boodram. They took him out. Michael Kurban took Christopher out, he started to shout and say, ‘Go back for Fyzie, go back for Fyzie, he right behind us’,'” said Romoutar.

She said Boodram told them that there was an air pocket and they were sharing oxygen tanks. Boodram explained that he and Kurban swam out because the rest of them could not make it.

Michael went back in search of his father but only found his tank and torchlight. He could not go any further because the length of the rope which was tied to his body had reached its limit.

When he came back up, he heard another sound coming from the pipe. He said they made other attempts to find them, but they were unsuccessful at that time.

Ramoutar claimed that it was between 4 am to 5 am when the company sent in remote technology into the pipe, but it was blocked.

Henry’s family

Meanwhile, the thought of losing a third son in the space of two months was too much for Nicole Greenidge to bear.

Greenidge, the mother of Yusuf Henry, lost two other sons in December. They died 16 days apart. One of them died from a blood clot on December 13 while the other died on December 29 from COVID-19.

She said, “I standing up here right now by the Grace of God because only God know how I standing up right here.”

Even though there was a high probability that the divers’ had already run out of oxygen, she said “I trust in the Lord and I still hoping even though we are at this point and they had been out there for hours, we still hoping that the goodness of God will come forward, not only for Yusuf but for each and everyone.”

Greenidge said no one from Paria had contacted them up to that time. She said a diver who was at the site said they heard a knocking coming from the pipe.

“He said the knocking was like three knocks and that is a knock of distress. They know that they wanted help, so he said the team that he was with at the time wanted to burst the pipe to get them out. They say they know what they had to do to take them out, how they would just flush them out.”

However, she said they were instructed by “higher authorities” not to burst the pipe. She said they were more concerned with “the disaster that bursting the pipe may cause, so they weren’t in any big hurry to save the lives stuck in the pipe.”

Due to his brothers’ deaths, she said Henry took some time off work and only recently resumed duties.

Nagessar’s family

Meanwhile, Nagessar’s wife, Vanessa Kussie, 48, woke up with prayers yesterday, asking God for her husband to return to her alive. The couple has been married for 12 years and they have a 30-month-old baby.

She said, “I have no feelings. I blank because they could have done so much and they didn’t. They could have saved people, send down the divers and let them do what they had to do, but they waiting for protocol from Paria.”

Kussie’s uncle, Carli Bay/Calcutta/McBean councillor Allan “Taxi” Seepersad, was disgusted that Paria lacked the courtesy to inform relatives what had taken place. Seepersad complained, “The management has a right to call the family and say what is taking place, 13 hours now no one called.” He also said Coast Guard stations should have been placed closer to the Point Lisas Industrial Estate so they could respond faster.

Even after Young met with the families, neither Kussie nor Seepersad was satisfied with what the minister had to say. Kussie said the meeting with Young was one of great disappointment.

“Yesterday one of the guys broke the rules and saved one of the divers. When he wanted to go back in he was denied by the Coast Guard. Three other divers came to help and they were denied. The minister shouldn’t come here, hours have passed… They can’t even answer questions and they choose their words carefully before they speak with us,” she lamented.

Up to last evening, the families were still gathered at the gates of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

The minister was contacted for comment following his meeting with the families and the company but did not respond to a WhatsApp message sent to him.

The Public Affairs Officer of the Coast Guard Kerron Valere said they will look into the claims.

Paria continues its rescue operations for the divers

An updated release issued by Paria around 3 pm stated that the company continues its rescue operations for the divers.

“The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and other subject matter experts were in support of this operation. All stakeholders continue to work assiduously in this support of this activity.” The company has also engaged the counselling service provider PEAPSL to be on standby to support the families and employees.”

Stating that Paria will work with LMCS Limited to address this situation, the company stated that LMCS is a service company contracted by Paria with over 30 years of experience in engineering design, procurement, marine construction, and land construction services, inclusive of diving-related underwater services and marine logistics support.

Paria added that the divers who were engaged in this operation are certified and have a total of over 30 years of experience among them.

Survivor–I thought I would die

Christopher Boodram, the only diver to resurface on Friday, said he thought he was going to die.

Boodram, 36, of Pointe-a-Pierre, is warded in a stable condition at the San Fernando General Hospital where doctors are still running tests, but he was doing okay.

In a telephone interview with Guardian Media, Boodram’s wife, Candy, said her husband gave her a brief account of his ordeal.

She said, “I don’t know what happened but they got sucked into a pipe and it was really hard for them to get out.” He told her that they called out to each other and they met in an air pocket.

“One of them was really injured and they tried their best to move with him as far as they can. The two who felt they were okay, which was Christopher and Fyzie, decided to swim out of the tank in all this slush and oil and water to get to the top. Both of them start swimming upwards to get out of the pipe. Christopher said he gave up a few times well while swimming up because he thought that was it. He thought he would have never made it, but through God, he reached to the top.”

She said two divers, who are not working with the company, found him and were able to pull him out of the pipe onto a boat and carry him to the barge before they took him to the hospital.

Cindy said her husband told her that when they got sucked in they lost their tanks. “But, he, however, found a tank while swimming and he used that.”

Saying that her prayers go out to the other families, she added, “I am believing in God for good outcomes.”